I tend to think of all my outdoor gear and clothing as tools in a kit.
There is not one tool perfect for all conditions, seasons, uses, styles, or person.
Some people run cold; others run hot.
An inexpensive shell excellent for on-trail conditions in the short term is not a shell I’ll use for varied conditions with scrambling or bushwhacking.
And that idea of using different clothing and gear for various outdoor activities extends to my puffies.
I’m out in all four seasons with activities for backpacking, skiing, or camping. And use clothing appropriately.
But what about those in-between times? Or for cold, but not brutally cold, winter conditions? I used to wear a GoLite Bitterroot for these type of conditions found here in winter on the Colorado Plateau. Though a practical coat for the price, the thin nylon, and lots of baffles (vs. a few simple ones ala the Michelin Man) did not make it ideal for the extended wear I found myself doing on the many trips we took all winter.
When Montbell gave me a chance to test some puffies back at the start of Winter 2019/2020, I gravitated towards the Montbell Alpine Light Parka as a suitable middle-ground garment. It is not too hot nor too cold, and it is ideal for a wide temperature range.
The 4.8 oz of 800FP down fits into a parka that weighs 14.2 oz for a Men’s Medium. Though an ounce heavier than my old GoLite Bitterroot, the baffle style makes for a more thermally efficient piece of clothing; fewer baffles (seams) means less heat loss assuming a similar amount of down fill.
Note the chart above and see where the jackets with more seams fall on the warmth scale vs. lighter garments. Slightly heavier clothing with a somewhat thicker nylon shell gives me more versatility vs., for example, jackets best suited for thru-hiking during prime conditions only.
The Alpine Light Parka has sewn-through vs. baffle box construction. Always a trade-off for weight, functionality, and price. But since this attire is meant for colder, as opposed to deep winter conditions, I think all the compromises strike a balance with a piece of clothing I’ve grown to appreciate over the winter. It is telling that not only did I stuff it in my pack during backpacking trips, but also for day ski tours, and wore it often around town during some cold snaps.
Though there is a women’s version of this product, it is a different product in some ways in my opinion. More baffles for less thermal efficiency if with (arguably) a more stylish cut, but also over an ounce less of down fill. In other words, if you are a woman looking for a cold-weather jacket, a smaller version of the men’s parka might work better for your needs. Joan wears a men’s version of the Alpine Light Parka to fill a similar niche to me for cold weather backpacking.
As with other Montbell clothing and gear, it might not be the least expensive piece of kit by any means. But it is well-designed, very functional, and excellent value for a higher-end piece of clothing vs. similar quality clothing from other companies.
Overall? The Montbell Alpine Light Parka is an excellent “jack-of-all-trades” parka for cold weather or three-season plus conditions. Additionally, much like the Montbell Trekker rain jacket, if I had to own just one puffy for a quiver of one, it would be this puffy as it fits such a wide range of conditions with a correct balance of weight, price, and functionality.
UPDATE OCTOBER 2023 – Almost four years later, still going strong. The Alpine Light parka (hood) is perhaps my favorite puffy of all time. It’s a Goldilocks puffy for me that’s not too fragile yet still light for its warmth, works a range of temperatures, packs down well, and is my go-to from November until about early March in the high desert.
Oh..and for Joan, too!
Disclosure: Montbell provided the Alpine Light to me for no fee. Joan uses a wide variety of Montbell clothing, including the Alpine Light, that she purchased with her funds…and before she met me in some cases! 🙂